THE horrific rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl has electrified Pakistan, triggering scenes of almost riots and heartache cross the country.
Zainab Ansari’s body was found last week in a garbage bin, senior police officer Imran Nawaz Khan said. She had been abducted, raped and murdered.
She disappeared while going to a nearby home for Quranic studies. Her parents, who were away at a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia at the time, returned on Wednesday, landing at the Islamabad airport.
“We will not bury our daughter until her killers are arrested,” Zainab’s father, Ameen Ansari said in televised comments, as his wife sobbed.
“For the last two years, we are living in fear, parents are scared to send their kids outside.”
The crime has sent shockwaves across Pakistan. A mob attacked a police station and a nearby government building in eastern Punjab province on Wednesday, triggering clashes that left at least two people dead and several injured, a police statement said.
Officer Maqsood Ahmed said six girls were sexually assaulted in recent months in Kasur and that police were probing whether there was a connection in the cases. Activists on social media have condemned the government for failing to arrest those involved in the crime.
As the attack on the police station and the subsequent clashes unfolded on Wednesday, local TVs broadcast footage showing police firing shots in the air and toward the stone-pelting mob, trying to disperse it. In one segment, an officer asks another to hold direct fire, after which the second officer is seen continuing to shoot at the protesters.
Also on Wednesday, the Lahore High Court’s chief justice ordered a probe into Zainab’s killing.
Zulfiqar Hameed — the police chief in Kasur — refused to say whether the two people killed in Wednesday’s clashes had died from police gunshots.
Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the police were trying to contain the violence and find and arrest those involved in the girl’s murder.
Kasur shop owners shut their businesses on Wednesday to express their anger over Zainab’s slaying.
Firebrand cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri who took part in Zainab’s funeral service demanded the local government be replaced, saying it has “no right to remain in power after the killing of Zainab Ansari”.
In a speech to thousands of mourners, he blamed the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, for failing to “protect lives and honour of innocent girls” in the province.
Mr Qadri also issued an ultimatum to Mr Sharif and Mr Sanaullah to step down by January 17 to avoid street protest.
Mr Qadri is a staunch political rival of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party and he has led violent rallies in the capital, Islamabad, since 2014 after eight of his supporters were killed in anti-government rallies in Lahore, Punjab provincial capital.
Zainab was the eighth minor to have been raped and murdered in Kasur in the past year, the police official said, adding that investigators could not confirm if they had a serial killer on their hands.
A spokesman for the Punjab provincial police said paramilitary troops had been called in to restore order.
#JusticeForZainab became a top Twitter hashtag in the country as outrage grew and politicians called for action.
“The beasts who have disrespected our daughters should be punished immediately,” former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said.
Cricketer-turned-opposition leader Imran Khan urged authorities to act swiftly. “The condemnable and horrific rape of the minor had once again exposed how vulnerable children are,” he tweeted.
Pakistan’s chief justice called for a police report within 24 hours, a Supreme Court statement said, while the spokesman for the military tweeted that the army chief had directed “all out support to civil administration to arrest the criminals and bringing them to exemplary justice”.
The 2015 scandal saw allegations that at least 280 children were filmed being sexually abused by a gang of 25 men who blackmailed their parents by threatening to leak the videos.
Dubbed the largest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history, it came to light after parents of the victims clashed with police in Kasur during a protest blasting authorities for failing to prosecute the case.